This is my last evening in Boquete before I head onto the final leg of my journey in Panama City. Despite the fact that I've had some lovely excursions and side-trips to take photographs of the local color and culture, this has been a working trip (really!) with a daily agenda of tasks and to-do's to accomplish in a compressed amount of time for Toby and Max Jewelry. This is a company that I run in the U.S. for my friend, designer Sandy Comstock, who retired to Panama a few years ago. While we email and skype daily, we have found that nothing can quite take the place of periodic, intense, face-to-face brainstorming/design sessions. Thus, I'm heading home with a year's worth of plans and goals, designs, and marketing campaigns stuffed into my carry-on, and a renewed enthusiasm and excitement for the projects ahead.
I stopped this evening at the local Catholic church for six o'clock mass. I had visited here last year and attended their English speaking mass, which I found very touching at the time. I grew up in a pentecostal church culture that placed a lot of emphasis on evangelization and missionary work - my own parents had trained for the ministry and generously supported friends who were missionaries in Haiti. (Brother & Sister Hittenberger's pictures were taped to the door of our refrigerator for as long as I can remember. ) So I found it both touching and just a little ironic that a little Catholic mission in a little town in a third world country would care enough about a gringa like me to offer a service in my own language. The priest carefully read the scriptures and homily from a translated script, mispronouncing just about everything to the point that I barely understood him, but I loved him for his efforts and sincerity. And I was humbled. Truly.
But tonight I wanted to experience a traditional mass with the local community, so I snuck in the back (this happens a lot a my parish back home) and tried to be inconspicuous. Now this is kind of tough to do when you are the only tall white woman in the room. Wait ... make that the only white woman period. Things were different. The music was simple and joyful and sung acapella, resonating and reverberating off the beautiful marble tile floors and walls. Unlike mass at home, the priest entered from the front of the church, and then led the congregation in a slow parade throughout the interior of the sanctuary, singing beautiful Spanish songs that were unfamiliar to me. Naturally, the entire mass was in Spanish, and naturally I didn't understand a word of it. While the priest began to read the scripture, an elderly padre in the traditional plain brown tunic and rope belt of a friar, made his way to the confessional booth at the front of the sanctuary and turned on a lighted sign that I'm pretty sure said something like "open for business" or words to that effect. And throughout the remainder of the mass, little old ladies and farm workers and children quietly made their way forward to make their weekly (or daily!) confession in the privacy of a secluded little room with a neon light.
Again I was humbled. No fancy sound system. No color coordinated choir robes. No power-point presentation. No theatrical soloist with a microphone and a canned sound track. And no coffee and refreshments in the fellowship hall afterwards. Just the breaking of bread, the pouring of wine, the blessing of the body and blood, and the simple reverence and worship of a loving, multi-lingual Savior.
As I sat quietly in the back of that church, I reflected on the course of events that have occurred in my life over the last 15 years that have brought me here, a half a world away from my home and family and unscripted, demanding, crazy life. My world has deepened and widened in ways I could never have imagined and my friendships have multiplied exponentially. Colors are more vibrant and the myriad of textures around me are exquisite. My experiences have fueled my creative passions, deepened my compassion, opened doors to opportunities I previously would have missed, and given me an unwavering belief in the miraculous. Again I am humbled. And grateful.
Many years ago, when our children were toddlers, a good friend asked me to lead the children's music for our church's summer bible school. "I've got one request," she said. "Skip the whole Deep and Wide song. It's NOT scriptural. It doesn't make ANY sense. I mean, really, what the heck does 'a fountain flowing Deep and Wide' mean? REALLY?" Well, tonight, in the back of a little Panamanian Catholic church, I was reminded of the depth and width of the fountain of grace, and the true message of the gospel ... to love one another .
Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide ... they sang it in Spanish tonight. I didn't understand a word of it, but I understood every word that was said.
Peace be with you, Cindy